Since the release of Windows 8 back in October, 2012, I’ve been reading many articles around the web, Facebook posts, and Tweets that criticized Windows 8 and blamed the OS for low PC sales. All of this just made me think that many people aren’t really aware that Windows 8 isn’t just about a new look, there are many features and improvements that make this version of Microsoft’s operating system the biggest change since Windows 95.
As such I decided to make a list with 18 features why to upgrade to Windows 8 is the right move and where the new OS does a better job than previous versions.
Although the first thing you will notice is how different it looks with its new Metro-style user-interface and new apps, I won’t be judging the book for its cover, instead I’ll go briefly (but in detail) about what I think makes Windows 8 a great piece of software. (The list is not in a particular order.)
1. Super fast boot
This is amazing, do you remember when you could make a cup of coffee in the time it took Windows to boot? Now Windows 8 boots in seconds, this is possible thanks to the implementation of a feature called fast start-up mode, which is a hybrid of traditional cold boot and hibernation.
2. Low hardware requirement
Unlike other operating systems, Windows 8 brings many improvements to the computer world and yet you can upgrade almost any Windows 7 PC (even XP and Vista machines), and in the majority of the cases it will run faster and more responsive.
3. Windows 8 apps
Also apps are a lot smarter. For example, apps in Windows 8 aren’t meant to be closed, they can be left open all day. Whenever you are not using them, they will magically suspend and free up system resources, and when you come to reopen an app, it will resume the session where you left of.
4. Windows Store
If you are familiar with Google Play or the Apple App Store, you know that it is very convenient to have one-stop-shop where you can get your apps. Windows 8 has also its own store and Microsoft as any other big player, has a set of requirements and specifications that each app has to pass in order to be available in the Store. The benefits are getting apps from a trusted source, this also reduces viruses in your PC and the code has higher quality.
5. Built-in antivirus
When was the last time you bought a computer and right out-of-the-box you were protected against malicious code? Even though, you can always opt to install your favorite antivirus software, Windows 8 comes with Windows Defender, an AV solution to keep you safe online and from local threats — personally it’s the only antivirus I use and it does a pretty good job.
6. File History
This is a backup feature in Windows 8 very similar to Apple’s Time Machine and it allows you to configure an external drive or network folder to backup all your files (by default all these locations are included: My Documents, Public Documents, My Music, Public Music, My Pictures, Public Pictures, My Videos, and Public Videos — but of course you can always add your own locations –). Then if something were to go wrong you will always be able to recover that specific files.
7. Remove and reinstall everything
Windows 8 incorporates push-button reset like phones do today, and it’s a feature to reinstall the operating system from scratch, restoring all the original factory settings. Basically, all the user’s files get securely erased, also PC settings and apps are removed, a fresh copy of Windows gets reinstalled, and Windows starts the Out of Box Experience (OOBE). This is very useful feature when your PC gets infected with a nasty virus or you’re simply getting rid off the computer and you want to protect your personal files from ending up in the wrong hands.
8. Refresh your PC
The Refresh feature works almost in the same way as the “Remove and reinstall everything”, but all user’s personal files, Windows 8 apps and important settings are kept and a fresh copy of Windows is reinstall.
9. Storage Spaces
In Windows 8, Storage Spaces is a mechanism that let you to group a bunch of physical disks together into something called “Storage Pool”, which then you can use to carve a larger logical disk drive that can exceed the total amount of physical space in the Storage Pool. Then when you are running out of physical disk space, Windows will let you know that you need to add another drive.
Here is an example: Suppose that you have two external USB drives, one is 100GB and the other is 750GB. You can connect these drives to your Windows 8 PC and create a Storage Pool of let say 5TB, although you only have 850GB (100GB + 750GB) of physical space. Then when you’re getting close to the physical limit you can add more drives and the OS will automatically add them to Storage Spaces — pretty cool, right?
10. Windows To Go
This feature is included in Windows 8 Enterprise and now is also available for Surface Pro, and it allows you to create a USB flash drive with a full-blown installation of Windows, which you can then boot from and take the corporate environment anywhere. Windows To Go is useful in many scenarios to provide a secured environment when, for example, working remotely from home or from a shared computer, or even to avoid spending hours setting a new computer for a contractor that has to work for limited time in a different location — I also previously created a guide on how use Windows in a thumb drive that you can check.
11. One experience everywhere
Windows 8 is a mobile centric operating system designed for touch-enabled devices that also works very well with the keyboard and mouse. With the rapidly grow of mobile devices, Microsoft built Windows 8 to address all the shortcomings from previous versions of the OS. The biggest bet from Microsoft was to create a GUI (Graphical User Interface) that can adapt to any screen size while keeping the same look and feel. This means that when you learn how to navigate Windows 8, you also know how to navigate your Windows Phone and Xbox (and yes, even Xbox One), and the same is true if you learn how to use your phone or Xbox first.
Upgrading to Windows 8 makes it easier than ever to add more languages and there’s no installation of language pack and confusing configuration. Now you just go to the Control Panel, navigate through Languages, and choose one — that’s it.
One feature that I’m really enjoying after upgrading to Windows 8 is the ability to choose how do I want to unlock my PC. Now Microsoft offers the same, and more, methods of authentication than smartphones including traditional password, PIN and Picture password. And the best part is that because PIN and Picture passwords aren’t very secure, they won’t work over the network — In this case you’ll force to enter a the main password.
14. Keyboard shortcuts
Although you can easily navigate Windows 8 with your keyboard and mouse, this operating system has a lot more keyboard shortcuts than in previous versions, and they will help you to get things done faster, e.i., navigating the user-interface or simply cutting and pasting. Here a large collection of useful shortcuts available.
15. Microsoft account
This is a new account type that let users take advantage on many features that are just not possible with the traditional Windows account, such as roam PC settings between computers, account picture, desktop wallpaper, passwords, apps, websites, networks, languages, app settings and more, making it easier to have the same experience on any Windows 8 PC.
16. Task Manager
After more than 15 years the Task Manager is finally user-friendly. Microsoft has redesigned it and now you’ll have a better understanding on how the OS uses all the hardware resources. You can also control how and which apps run at the startup (previously found in the msconfig), and you can even view your computer’s IP address. The new Task Manager offers two modes: Fewer Details, which you can use to view all the running apps and close them if you have to when they’re acting up. And then there are more details, this is the advanced mode, but still easy to use — This previous Windows guide will help you with everything you need to know about the Task Manager.
17. Boot options
If you ever need to troubleshoot Windows 8, Microsoft has included a few tools you can use to get your system running again. From the new boot options menu you’ll be able to change “Windows Startup Settings” behaviour like debugging, disable driver signing, boot into safe mode, refresh and reinstall Windows, and several other advanced boot options.
18. Family Safety
As with any parent, kids safety is a high-priority concern, and moving to Windows 8, parents have more control on what the little ones are doing. Now parents can create an special user account that will enable to keep track when and how kids use the computer at home, you can set limits to which websites they can visit, apps and games they can use and more — for more details read this Microsoft article on the topic.
As you can see there are plenty great features why to upgrade to Windows 8 is the right move and these were just a few, Microsoft has added thousands. Although, there are many new features in the operating system, users made it clear that there are elements and features that need to change and comeback in Windows 8. To address all these shortcomings Microsoft is gearing up to release Windows 8.1, which is a major update coming this year. The update will bring many new features and improvements, but also users will see again the Start button and they will be able to boot straight to the desktop experience.
I also think that manufactures should stop blaming Windows 8 for the low PC sales. We are now in a new mobile device revolution and we can only expect these devices to take an even bigger cut of the market in the coming years. Also if there is someone to blame, the majority of PC manufactures had failed to deliver new interesting computer designs throughout the years.
Now after eight months of the launch of Windows 8, we are just starting to see new ultrabooks, laptops and tablet that are more appealing to users, and finally we’re starting to see PCs with retina displays and with the 4th-gen Intel’s processors (Haswell) which will help to deliver better battery life and drive thinner designs.
I understand that many users are feeling left out with the Microsoft changes, but let’s face it, if Windows 8 would have the same characteristics of Windows 7, we would be complaining why Microsoft didn’t do anything new. Besides we cannot live with the same user-interface forever.
In my opinion Windows 8 is a fantastic piece of software worth to upgrade to, I honestly enjoy every feature it offers and makes my work and entertainment life easier, but it isn’t perfect and I am certainly looking forward for Windows 8.1.
Image courtesy of Dell (Flickr)